Verso vs. Recto: What Do They Mean?

I learned a new word today while doing a crossword puzzle in the Washington Post.

42 Across: Left-hand page (5 letters).


Are any bibliophiles familiar with the word? Maybe an English major? Anyone?

Well, if you’ve never heard of this word you’re not alone.

Photo of: Mom Genes by Paige Larkin Halsted and Angela Olson Halsted/Edited by Patti Varol

Check out Merriam-Webster’s definition:


ver·​so | \ ˈvər-(ˌ)sō  \

plural versos

1the side of a leaf (as of a manuscript) that is to be read second

2a left-hand page— compare RECTO

You’ll notice above that Merriam-Webster advises you to compare ‘verso’ with ‘recto’. Another opportunity to learn!


rec·​to | \ ˈrek-(ˌ)tō  \

plural rectos

Definition of recto

1the side of a leaf (as of a manuscript) that is to be read first

2a right-hand page— compare VERSO

Essentially, verso and recto are an opposing pair of words to refer to pages in a book or sides of a page and the order with which they should be read or the side they are on.

Quite a simple word. Yet, not widely used. I suppose saying ‘front and back’ or ‘left and right’ is generally sufficient to get our point across in the day-to-day. Folks in the early 1800s sure did like to make things complicated.

I found this interesting because it’s such a bookish word that hasn’t really come up in my bookish world. I wonder what other words are out there to describe books?

Did you know the definition of verso before reading this post?

How and when have you used this word before? Be sure to mention in a comment below if you’re a pro at using verso and recto so we can learn more from your examples!

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